How I wish you could see this magnificent painting, In the Conservatory, by Albert Bartholome – and how I wish you could see the actual dress, worn by Madame Bartholome for the painting. Both are as breathtakingly fresh as an early summer day, and both are part of an exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which explores “the fascinating relationship between art and fashion from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s” with a stunning ensemble of 75 impressionist paintings as well as period dresses, hats, undergarments, and other fashionable items of the era.
My friend Bev graciously invited me to see the exhibition last Friday, much to my delight and gratitude. We boarded a morning commuter train, along with those who ride the rails into Chicago on a daily basis, and a hoard of teenagers heading down to the Lakefront for Lollapalooza, a yearly “rock fest” in Grant Park.
The day was a contrast in fashion. The teens were wearing the sorts of clothing young people wear these days; shorts with boots, tank tops on top of tank tops, a sprinkling of maxi and mini skirts, and more than a few wellies. Rain was predicted. In fact, there had been a downpour just hours before and the clouds were hanging heavy off of Lake Michigan, clinging to the spire of the John Hancock. Bev and I carried umbrellas, just in case, and wore sensible shoes, as well as light summer sweaters to chase the chill of air conditioning. No one out and about was dressed as a woman of means, out for a stroll on an August day in 1870, would have dressed.
What a contrast we all were to the lawn and walking dresses, the morning clothes and evening attire, all whose impressions were exquisitely framed and hung in the galleries of the Art Institute, along with the dozen or so dresses that were contained under glass. Oh, to see the detailing in the dresses of the 19th century; the small waistlines, the linen, satin, and brushed velvet, the bows and buttons, the pleating and stitching! I’ve always been attracted to detail – and the period clothing displayed had it in spades.
The mood in the galleries was subtle, from the period wall paper as backdrop for many of the dresses, to the salon sofas, grass carpeting and park benches for the paintings set in gardens and the faint chirping of birds. A feast for the senses.
We talked and walked, oohed and ahed, ate lunch in the courtyard, visited the gift shop, then made our way to the doors, where we began our slow retreat home, past tens of thousand of teenagers now pushing east to the park, which swelled to 100,000. There we were, like salmon, swimming upstream, and I wondered how arduous our trek would have been in Madame Bartholome’s dress, which made quite an impression on me.
Yes, the day was a contrast in fashion – and a treat for the senses!
Thank you, Bev, for sharing such an experience with me.
Image found here.